Earn College Credit with Prior-Learning Assessments

Young Man pointing up to the phrase "PLA's"

What are prior-learning assessments? Prior-learning assessments (PLAs) are methods that colleges, universities and other education and training providers use to evaluate a student's non-academic experiences and training. PLAs award college credit, certification or advanced standing for learning that has occurred outside of the more traditional learning environment. Students that participate in PLA testing can use these credits as a shortcut to graduation. Other common terms for these types of assessments include Credit for Prior Learning (CPL) and Recognition of Learning.

While Prior Learning Assessment has been in practice for more than 40 years, it is gaining traction due to the rising costs of higher education. Thousands of U.S. colleges now recognize and grant credit for PLAs. PLAs evaluate the knowledge a student has gained in high school, through work experience, employer training programs, military service, or independent study. Standardized tests, advanced placement and departmental exams are common methods used to evaluate PLAs.

PLAs can save students a considerable amount of time and money, and, for the colleges that accept them, they can raise enrollment and graduation rates. Research from Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) shows that among adult students, graduation rates are two and a half times higher for students with PLA credit.

How do PLAs Work?

There are four ways students can take advantage of PLAs.

1.         Submit a portfolio that demonstrates credit-worthy mastery of a subject and submit to the CAEL.

2.         Take a subject-specific examination from CLEP, DSST, or through the Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate programs.

3.         Attend colleges that offer credits for course substitutions (may include departmental review of external syllabi, training, licenses, or certifications.)

4.         Apply for non-standard learning credits from the American Council on Education (ACE), and National College Credit Recommendation Services.                                                                                           

Many colleges and universities realize that college-level learning doesn’t always occur in the classroom. The skills and knowledge you have acquired may have come through your employment experience, the military or through various other life activities. Through tests, portfolio creation and course challenging, Prior Learning Assessments can earn you credit for what you already know, saving you time and money.

Ed4Career has an extensive list of online general education courses with open enrollment. Students interested in seeing if these courses or their prior learning can be applied for college credit should contact the college of their choice.

PLAs - your learning and life experience matter!


By Kris Powers | August 23rd 2021

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